2008 Melbourne International Jazz Festival
Choulai's group, in addition to Hughes and Ball, featured tenor saxophonist Carlo Barbaro, bassist Sam Anning (voted "Young Australian Jazz Artist of the Year") and drummer Rory McDougall. Save for a thrilling piano trio rendition of a Louis Armstrong's obscurity ("That's My Home"), the set was comprised of mostly intricate originals all of which maintained a morphing energy of forward momentum. From Lester Bowie to Curtis Mayfield, influences and directions in the music seemed to point in just about every direction, with band members splintering off into various instrumental configurations, helping to maintain an element of continuous organic development within the music.
Choulai also inaugurated the daily "Jazz for Kids" noontime programs at The Edge, a series which served as entertaining, educational and surprising highpoints of the festival, particularly for the predominantly 3- to 13-year-olds in regular attendance. Though Choulai's duo with saxophonist Barbaro didn't make much effort in engaging the same way as did the program's following days' performers, he provided a model in not only being successful but quite a young and respected local player these kids could in a sense look up to and even relate to. Towards the end of his set, Choulai noticed New York-based pianist Jon Weber in the audience, and subsequently invited him up for the last number, offering up his piano stool. Weber happily obliged, immediately engaging the kids, asking "A fast or slow one?" As Choulai's set was very introspective, particularly given the age of the audience, predictably and unanimously they yelled"FAST!" And in a preview to the second day of the "Jazz for Kids," Weber performed a rollicking version of "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" in a first time off the cuff collaboration with Barbaro, much to the delight of the kids in attendance.
Weber the following day requested to have 40-odd chairs placed on the high-rise stage, perhaps the most engaging gesture that could be offered by a performer for this series; kids even listened at his feet under the piano! Of the many inspiring moments for the youngsters, Weber jazzed up "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" as well as the themes to "Pink Panther" and "The Simpsons," and such rhythmic jazz standard staples as "Take the A Train" and "Stompin' At The Savoy."
Two other "Jazz for Kids" featured, respectively, Aussie veterans pianist Joe Chindamo and cornetist/pianist Bob Sedergreen. Sedergreenwho has played with Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson and Jimmy Witherspoon opened with an amusing dedication to the historic Mary Lou Williams/Cecil Taylor 1977 collaboration, revealing two ends of the same stick and delicately contrasting Mary Lou's blues and swing-based style with Cecil's anything but.
The young crowd certainly felt the humor but also gained a new level of appreciation for jazz' unpredictability. They were then treated to Sedergreen's band of high school students who not only played quite maturely but also took questions from the audience such as "Is it hard to learn how to play a song?" And "How do you improvise?" The questions, some coming from 5 and 6 year olds were priceless, as were the answers. And Sedergreen and ensemble ran the gamut as far as repertoire as well, from Miles' "Milestones" to his latter-period fun and funky even rock-oriented "Jean Pierre," thus covering a lot of ground in the hour-long presentation. Like with Weberhe probably made some new or at least future jazz converts.